After lasts week health care summit, it is unclear how the President and Congress will move forward with health care. The summit was largely seen as a demonstration of the philosophical divide on health care, with no resolution or compromise coming out of the discussion, and rumors of pushing a health care bill through the reconciliation process still lingering.
Health Care Summit Roundup
The reality behind the health care summit is that both the public and the politicians come to the table divided not merely over the details but rather over the basic approach to health reform. In his comments, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) highlighted three of those major divisions comprehensive legislation versus incremental legislation, starting over versus pressing ahead with the bills passed in House and Senate in December, and a decentralized approach versus a centralized federal solution. Last weeks debate demonstrated a willingness by the President or the Congressional leadership to alter their basic approach.
Most Americans want problems in the health insurance markets fixed, but they do not want a federal takeover of the health care sector of the economy. Regrettably, the cornerstone elements of the Senate and House proposals would put more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats and politicians. Instead, Congress and the Administration should pursue reforms that give Americans greater personal control of their health care decisions. If the President and Congress were sincere about achieving bipartisanship, they should have set aside these highly unpopular proposals and shifted direction by taking an incremental approach to health care reform: one that puts health care reform on a path toward empowering individuals and families to control more of the financing and delivery of health care.
For more reaction to the health care summit from Heritage analysts, check out our blog here.
Next Steps for Health Care
Recent reports indicate that House and Senate leaders are considering using reconciliation as a means to pass Obamacare. The plan is for the House to pass the Senate-passed version of Obamacare and use the special reconciliation process as a means to amend it in order to avoid the Senate filibuster.
Reconciliation is the last step in the annual budgeting process. It was originally designed to affect permanent spending and revenue programs in order to promote deficit reduction, and only has a 51 vote threshold (instead of 60). Because of this lower threshold, the reconciliation process is a fast-track way to bypass the normal legislative process and to speed up consideration (and passage) of such a bill. Liberals want to use reconciliation because it is the easiest way to get a bill to the Presidents desk before Easter.
However, there is hope for conservatives. Last week Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told reporters: The only way this works is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then, depending on what the package is, the reconciliation provision that moves first through the House and then comes here. When Conrad was reminded that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has repeatedly insisted that the House will not pass the Senate bill until the Senate passes a second bill that fixes the first, Conrad replied: Fine, then its dead. Whether Senator Conrad and Speaker Pelosi will stick to their comments is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure: there are still procedural hurdles for health care reform.